When we are inspired with creative ideas what often follows is a process of determining how valuable they are. Some of us do this by making mental lists, whereas others right them down. Some people casually talk them over with friends or family. Whatever your system of weighing up whether or not an idea is worth pursuing, in the process of coming up with instances to support them, how do you know that your overall judgements are not subject to biased thinking? Below I have briefly outlined what goes on in your mind when you attempt to evaluate the benefits of an idea and how a coach
can help minimise unfavourable occurrences.
There is a psychological phenomenon that we are all affected by called the ‘availability heuristic’. When you are either estimating the size of a category or the frequency of an event, instead of fully addressing the question that has been posed, you actually report an impression of the ease with which instances come to mind. If instances come easily to mind then your judgement of the issue will be large. The availability heuristic is a mechanism that substitutes one question for another and can actually lead to the occurrence of biases in your thinking.
A simple example of the availability heuristic in action is when a dramatic event occurs, such as a plane crash. As the news of the crash attracts media coverage, your feelings about the safety of flying may temporarily be altered. Rather than assess the actual statistics about plane crashes, you believe the world is a more dangerous place for a while as you have accidents on your mind. Another example is where you may make a decision about not getting a flu vaccination because none of your acquaintances caught the flu in the preceding year. Your judgements are based on dramatised and localised events that have made an impression on you and are easily available to your mind.
When assessing how valuable an idea is and subsequently the importance of pursuing it, you would normally assess the benefits (value) of the idea for yourself and your clients. Obviously, the clearer the benefits are for both parties the more valuable the idea is and the more likely you are to pursue it. However, when you are assessing the benefits of an idea and coming up with as many instances of value as you can, your overall judgement of its greatness may be influenced by two separate issues:
- The fluency with which instances come to mind; and
- How many instances you retrieve.
You may have come up with an impressive number of instances (10 for example) to support an idea, however, the first three or four ideas were fairly easy to generate but you struggled to come up with the remainder. Your fluency was weak. As a result, because it was not that easy to come up with 10 reasons for pursuing an idea, you are highly likely to conclude that it is not worth pursuing. If you set yourself a lower target for the number of instances to be retrieved, such as five for example, you are likely to experience a higher level of retrieval fluency and make a more positive judgement about the idea as a result. This does not mean that you should only come up with a few instances about why an idea could be valuable.
When carrying out this type of assessment you will naturally experience diminishing levels of fluency while generating instances of value. You have an expectation of the rate at which fluency will diminish, but your expectation is likely to be incorrect because the reduction in fluency will occur a lot earlier than you think. What is even more concerning is that if experiencing this drop in fluency is quite common (every time you assess an idea), it can actually become normal and you may find that this normality creates an unfavourable trend in how you classify potentially brilliant ideas. The unexpected fall in fluency while retrieving instances of value influences your overall judgement about the greatness of an idea and can lead you to undervaluing it. When such a drop in fluency is removed from the process your judgement will not be affected by it.
This leads us to the question about how working with a business coach can be useful when evaluating which of the many ideas you generate will be of the greatest value. A coach is incredibly skilled with being able to listen to and identify the moments prior to experiencing a sudden drop in fluency when identifying instances of value. Once the moment has been identified, the coach will expertly ask questions surrounding the idea and the information that has been retrieved so far. This aids with maintaining levels of retrieval fluency until the genuine moment to stop arrives, so that a premature judgement to undervalue the idea is not made. It also helps with unlocking the many untapped, valuable reasons in your mind for pursuing the idea.
Written by Prashant Jadav. For more information about coaching and personal development support, please get in touch here.